2020: Looking back at how the Elizabeth Lee Black School moved forward through a pandemic

Can you believe it?  It was just about one year ago that the Governor closed all schools in Pennsylvania.  It was supposed to be for two weeks.  Little did we know then that it would last to September! Yes, COVID turned education upside down! So, I thought that I would “look back” and share with you what I have seen as the positive outcomes and challenges that we have experienced.

Our students:

As educators, we know that we must integrate social/emotional/cognitive learning, but the question was, how do we do this in a virtual learning environment?  This issue certainly was heightened for students with disabilities.

We knew that we needed to focus on the individual student’s strengths and challenges through virtual and innovative learning.

Our families:

What did this mean for our families?  Suddenly, they were now responsible for their child’s education. How would our families be able to support their children should behavioral challenges occur?

We acknowledged that we needed to support our families in every way possible. We wanted to engage our families in the learning process.  Staff needed to reach out regularly to our students and families, share information, identify resources to ensure that the students’ and families’ needs were met. A holistic approach was needed that would support scaffolded learning.

Technology:

Not a replacement for human interaction, but a tool to help students and staff communicate, monitor progress, and present information in different ways.

Fortunately, for our students who lacked technology, their home school districts were able to provide them with chrome books, iPads, etc. However, our staff needed to learn how to utilize technology for virtual learning.  During the first months, we provided enrichment activities for our students which was offered in an asynchronous learning environment. This meant that the students used the enrichment materials at any time and without a video component.  But when we returned virtually in the summer, we knew we had to offer synchronous learning as well. The platforms, Box and Go To Meeting, became the vehicles for us to do this.  Then Microsoft TEAMS became available in the Fall…another learning curve!

Physical plant:

We required so much to be able to implement mitigation procedures, but we also knew that this was critical for us to keep our students and staff safe. We developed a Health and Safety Plan and identified  tasks that were essential to complete: upgrading ventilation in all areas, establishing outdoor classrooms, purchasing plexiglass dividers, UV sanitizers for iPads, sanitizing spray, securing PPE, including gloves, masks and gowns…. The lists became quite extensive!

So, 365 days later, I can state that on a positive note, most of our students have not demonstrated the loss of skills that one might have expected. Our families and staff have worked diligently so that has not occurred, and many have been thoroughly engaged in their child’s education.  We have learned so much about technology and how best to engage our students in virtual learning.  I am pleased that many of our students are now back to school full time and hope that these numbers will continue to increase.  We look forward to School Year 21-22 with our students fully engaged in their classrooms. It portends to be an exciting year!

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